Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Technique Tuesday: Shooting At The Speed Of Light - Understanding High Speed Flash Sync

OK, I got it out of my system. I've told the world about the most exciting local election of all times. So, now reporting from the Center Of The Universe - on with Technique Tuesday: Shooting At The Speed Of Light - Understanding High Speed Flash Sync.

This is probably one of the least understood yet one of the most useful features in your lighting arsenal - high speed flash sync. What is it? What does it do? Folks, back in the old days when I was shooting my Hasselblad, I had the capability to sync my flash at 1/500 second with that fast leaf shutter built into those beautiful Hassey lens.

My greatest disappointment as I migrated to digital was the fact that my first digital camera, a Fuji S-1, only synced to 1/200 second. That made it really hard for me to continue to get my dramatic "darkened sky" images I loved capture. My next camera, Nikon's D1x did let me sync to 1/500 second again and I was a happy camper till switching to Canon a few years later and again had the same flash speed limitation.

I worked around it with my "Cheatin' Flash" technique, but syncing the flash at ANY shutter speed was still the dream. Well, dreams do come true and both Canon and Nikon systems offer that capability. Hit PLAY below to get the entire story on how to make it work, why it works, and when to use this technique. I think you will enjoy it.

Hey gang, that's it for me today. I hear the polls calling and I hope the lines are not too long. I hope your candidate wins where ever you are, and I'll plan to see everybody again tomorrow. Have a great one, -David


  1. David, I don't get it. Is this the same high speed sync we're using since the late 90s? Didn't we use this feature even with film SLRs (not speaking about FP, even my old Maxxum 9 does HSS).
    Funny that obviously so many photogs have not discovered this feature.

  2. Great tutorial. as always.
    One question: Does this mean that the time from when the first light hit the sensor, until the last light leave the sensor is never faster than the cameras highest sync speed (1/250 in this case)?
    The gap between the curtains is just getting smaller but it still takes 1/250 for it to travel from top to bottom?



  3. Hi David, I use high speed sync all the time, but being nerdy, i was wondering about those photons. Can you explain how the photon (energy) system of a flash operates? thanks, and btw, just got back to Columbus from shooting a wedding in Cincinnati. Lots of fun! Great city.

  4. Great tutorial and web site, but I still don't understand how the camara & flash do it. If the flash were just "staying on" during the exposure, then the faster shutter speed would darken both the sky and the model. Since that obviously didn't happen, then the flash must still be flashing in synch with the shutter. The f-stop is controlling the flash exposure while f-stop & shutter speed together are controlling the ambient - just like the normal flash / ambient balancing process. Even with the faster shutter speed, the flash is still a shorter duration than the exposure time on the sensor. I guess I need to dig out the manual.

  5. For the record, Olympus introduced this high speed flash technology in 1987 with the OM4T and F280 flash. They call it FP mode as an homage to the days of flash bulbs. Of course their digital pro models (E1 and E3) also have it. Basically the flash keeps on firing in very short bursts so fast that sensor (or film) reads it as one long burst.

  6. High Speed Flash Sync, Freezing Action with Flash

    A method of delaying the flash burst and capturing a section of the flash curve using a Broncolor Mobil creating a 1/8000 sec sync.